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Herald Breakfast – February 13 2015


The forecast rain may spoil some weekend plans, but the clouds provided a stunning morning sky for Instagrammer @boskophoto. Beachwatch:As far as the date goes it might be a black Friday but we willsee plenty of blue sky, so another good day beachside. Thewind will be light from the north at first before heading eastto north-east and freshening while the swell is from the eastaround 1 to 1.3 metres. Once again wave conditions at mostbeaches will be a bit lumpy with the northern ends being thebetter value.
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Weather: Showers in Newcastle on Friday (26 degrees) with the rain expected to linger into the weekend (27 degrees Saturday, 29 degrees Sunday). Similar conditions in Maitland across the weekend (30 degrees and a shower or two Saturday, 33 degrees and showers on Sunday) while Scone is expected to receive just an afternoon shower or two on Friday (31 degrees) and possible showers on the weekend (33 degrees Saturday, 34 degrees Sunday).

Traffic: No major incidents reported on Hunter roads.

Trains: No major incidents or delays reported on the Hunter or Newcastle lines. Buses replace trains between Newcastle and Hamilton.

Morning Shot: The forecast rain may spoil some weekend plans, but the clouds provided a stunning morning sky for Instagrammer @boskophoto.

Newcastle man dies after waterfall fall: THE24-year-oldNewcastle man died while on holiday in Thailand.

Huntlee draws ICAC’s eye:THE NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption has the controversial Huntlee housing development in its sights.

Bright signs for Hunter economy: HUNTER manufacturers and tourists will continue to benefit from the lower Australian dollar and dramatic drop in unleaded petrol prices, the Hunter Research Foundation’s latest economic indicators reveal.

Hunter Bandidos chapter boss among 10 drug arrests:PHOTOS, VIDEOTHICK wads of hundred-dollar bills, a kilogram of cocaine, pistols with home-made silencers, knuckle dusters, steroids, a doctor’s prescription pad and pills of Viagra.

Griffiths blasts Stubbins in emotional outburst:PROFESSIONAL Footballers Australia has warned the Newcastle Jets they could be sued for ‘‘bullying and harassment’’ if five unwanted players are not allowed to join their teammates in full training.

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Barack Obama resorts to selfie-stick in BuzzFeed video to sell health insurance


Barack Obama shows off a new level of cool in the BuzzFeed video. Photo: BuzzFeed US President Barack Obama captures himself on a selfie stick in this still from the video. Photo: BuzzFeed
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Barack Obama shows off a new level of cool in the BuzzFeed video. Photo: BuzzFeed

But he isn’t above poking fun at himself either. Photo: Supplied

Barack Obama doodles his love in the spoof video. Photo: BuzzFeed

Barack Obama shows off a new level of cool in the BuzzFeed video. Photo: BuzzFeed

Barack Obama shows off a new level of cool in the BuzzFeed video. Photo: BuzzFeed

Using a selfie-stick, posing in front of his mirror, doodling pictures of his wife Michelle and playing imaginary basketball in his office: these are the things United States President Barack Obama supposedly does when he’s alone.

That’s the premise at least of a video he has recorded for BuzzFeed, the news, pop culture and listicle website, in a calculated and apparently already successful effort to reach young voters.

Like his controversial appearance on the Funny or Die web series ‘Between Two Ferns’ with Zach Galifianakis in 2014, Obama participated in the self-mocking BuzzFeed video, published on Thursday in the US, as part of a strategy to sell his healthcare policy to young Americans.

BuzzFeed shared the video of Obama on their Facebook page with the message: “How did we get Obama to use a selfie stick? Oh, because he wants you to go to”  Things everybody does but doesn’t talk about, featuring President Obama南京夜网/6nYMfeKDXv — BuzzFeed (@BuzzFeed) February 12, 2015 President Obama wants YOU to #GetCovered by February 15: Watch →南京夜网/Ws1rTHRDC6 — The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 12, 2015The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in a comedic segment called ‘Slow Jam The News’, where he performed with Fallon and the band The Roots, to promote his policy on student loans.

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Mobile data hands Telstra Corporation profit lift


Surging data usage has helped Telstra record its strongest mobile revenue growth in three years as the telecommunications provider increased half-year profits to $2.1 billion.
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That result compared with a $1.7 billion net profit in the prior corresponding period even as total income fell slightly.

That meant, having increased its dividend in the two prior reporting periods, Telstra kept its half-year return to investors at 15¢ to be paid on March 27.

Telstra will also offer shareholders the chance to invest their payouts back into the company through a dividend investment plan following the final dividend payment in September.

“We want to have sustainable long-term growth in dividends and that’s really important. As the ramp in the NBN, we do get more cash, but I just want to stress that hasn’t happened yet,” Telstra chief executive David Thodey said in an indication he will look to raise dividends in the future.

Telstra said it expected full-year earnings to be in line with last year’s, excluding a $561 million gain it made from the sale of Hong Kong mobile provider CSL.

Growth across the company would offset the loss of CSL’s operating revenue, the telco said. Total revenue from continuing operations edged up 0.7 per cent to $12.7 billion. Total income from continuing and discontinued operations fell 1.1 per cent to $13 billion.

Mobile revenue was the stand out performer increasing 9.6 per cent to $5.3 billion, the strongest growth rate in three years. The number of mobile subscribers jumped 366,000 in the six months to December, taking Telstra’s mobile customer base to 16.4 million. Postpaid churn increased 1.4 percentage points to 12 per cent.

Revenue growth in mobile was driven by customers increasing their mobile spend. Average revenue per user for postpaid mobile increased 4.4 per cent to $69.71, excluding MRO (mobile repayment option).

Mr Thodey said that customers in mobile and fixed line were increasing their data plans.

“Customers are using these services more and they are willing to pay more for it,” Mr Thodey said.

By Comparison, SingTel-Optus, which on Thursday reported its results for the three months to December, saw its subscriber base fall by 12,000 users to 9.4 million.

Mr Thodey conceded that mobile subscriber growth has been higher, however, he was still pleased with the result.

“Yes, it wasn’t the same as it was half a year ago, but in anyone’s language it’s a good strong result. Churn was up a little bit, but it’s still world class,” Mr Thodey said.

Margins in Telstra’s mobile division held at 40 per cent.

“As you have a recontracted base and you’re not spending as much in terms of handset subsidies you’d expect that [margins would increase],” Mr Thodey said.

“There are some other aspects you’ve got to take into account at the same time; pricing pressures et cetera. But, we’re very focused on margins and making sure we get a good return for investment.”

Fixed-line revenue continued its steady decline, falling 1.7 per cent to $3.5 billion. The network applications services portfolio, which includes cloud storage and IT services, increased revenue by 18.1 per cent to $1 billion.

“I think they just want to give an option to the shareholders, instead of getting cash and getting taxed for it, you might as well just participate in getting more shares in the company,” CLSA analyst Roger Samuel said.

Mr Samuel said he thought some retail shareholders would have preferred an increase in Telstra dividend.

“I think the reason they may have held the dividend back is they may have to do something in terms of pricing given that Optus is getting more aggressive in mobile and fixed broadband, so I think they’re a bit more cautious with Optus waiting in the wings.”

Telstra shares finished the day down 0.6 per cent at $6.45. Interest in Australia’s largest telecommunications provider has seen shares swell more than 26 per cent over the last 12 months and hit a 14-year high of $6.735 earlier in February.

Telstra’s shares were trading at a significant premium compared with other telcos around the world, however domestic market factors should support earnings, investor returns and the share price, Citi analyst Justin Diddams said.

“The near-term operational outlook looks encouraging for Telstra, with continued market share gains, cost levers and acquisitions driving earnings growth,” Mr Diddams said.

“At the same time, the NBN deal starts to provide incremental cash for reinvestment and/or increase shareholder returns.”

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Telstra earnings exceed forecast as upgrades pay off


The superiority of Telstra’s network has successfully differentiated it from the rest.The billions Telstra has spent on its mobile network and new spectrum have allowed it to further open its lead on competitors and deliver earnings that were ahead of market expectations.
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It continues to increase its number of mobile subscribers but more importantly, customers are spending more money on these devices as the 4G and 4Gx-enabled phones become more widely available and customers ramp up data use.

Revenue increase in mobiles was  particularly strong at 9.6 per cent  in the December 2015 half – the clear driver in overall revenue lift of 1.1 per cent relative to the previous corresponding period.

Normalising the result for the distortion created by last year’s sale of Telstra’s of Hong Kong business  CSL – thus comparing apples with apples – this result would represent a 6.2 per cent improvement in income and a 3.5 per cent lift in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation.

And this now seems the kind of result  the market will be expecting in the full year – on a  normalised basis.

This is a stellar result for a company that houses large legacy assets in structural decline and for which the next generation of growth business is still in its relative infancy.

Having said that, the decline in fixed-line voice (PSTN) was not as steep as it has been in recent years.

There are plenty of headwinds facing Telstra but it seems that competition from its traditional mobile rivals, Optus and Vodafone, is not one that the management is too concerned about.

The superiority of Telstra’s network has successfully differentiated it from the rest and enabled it to increase subscribers in a fairly mature market – albeit not at a break-neck rate. And it also managed to retain margins in this business steady at 40 per cent.

Optus reported strong quarterly revenue growth on Thursday but its mobile subscriber base dell slightly, when mobile broadband numbers were included.

Thodey said he was pleased to see Optus investing money in building its network and noting there would be additional competition in some segments but overall, he said “nothing has changed in the past five years and we don’t think it will change in the next five years”.

But not all Telstra’s gains were market-share related. The trend towards multiple phones, multiple sims for one handset and the addition of devices using sims – such as tablets – has also given subscriber numbers a boost.

Meanwhile Telstra scored some positive results from its emerging business division, Network Application Services, where revenue rose 18 per cent.

The other climbing revenue generator is payments to Telstra from the NBN. It contributed $385 million in the half, up from $294 million, and while Telstra boss David Thodey is canny about providing an outlook on revenue from NBN, it will only be growing as compensation for customer transition and access infrastructure payments continue.

This result will provide those dividend-thirsty investors with some hope that there will be room for further capital management.

Telstra had a relatively modest $1 billion buyback last year – one that was unsurprisingly oversubscribed.

If the data-driven improvements in the mobile business continue at this pace, the pressure to increase shareholder returns will rebuild. No one is expecting another buyback soon but a bit more generosity in dividend payments is anticipated.

Balancing shareholder desire for improved dividend yield against Telstra’s desire to invest in new growth business will always create some tension. But Thodey remains steadfast that the capital management parameters remain clear – the company sticks within its articulated payout ratio while utilising its franking credits.

The company also reintroduced its popular dividend reinvestment program, which it said was a response to feedback from shareholders at the company’s previous annual meeting.

The phenomenal growth in Telstra’s share price during the past couple of years, to the point where its trades on a  price earnings multiple that is well in excess of the broader market, creates its own set of pressures.

On Thursday, Telstra’s share price barely responded to the positive earnings result. It is another stock that is priced for unattainable perfection.

Meanwhile Thodey joined the growing chorus of company executives calling for political certainty and stability from our leaders in Canberra.

He didn’t necessarily  blame the ruckus in politics for the current lack of consumer confidence in Australia but said he wanted politicians to move forward and provide the stability needed “so we can start planning … so we can create jobs”.

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Qantas boss Alan Joyce might face a board revolt from ad guru Todd Sampson over the new dress code for its airport lounges


Qantas passengers could soon face another lockout from the flying roo.
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No, the airline’s boss Alan Joyce is not planning to ground his fleet again to bust the unions.

With the coffers starting to look rather flush, Joyce has decided it is time to keep the riff-raff out of Qantas’s premium lounges.

“In response to customer feedback, our minimum smart-casual dress guidelines will be more closely applied to all visitors entering our Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney Qantas Clubs or Business lounges from April 1, 2015,” the airline said.

“Entry may be refused at the discretion of the lounge staff if visitors do not meet the appropriate standard. We want to create a comfortable atmosphere in our lounges that all visitors can enjoy.”

We can’t wait to see what happens when Qantas board member and  T-shirt-wearing ad guru Todd Sampson fronts at a Qantas lounge in April.

After all, Sampson made no concessions to “smart casual” for the annual meeting of CBD’s publisher, Fairfax Media.

Then again, he can always fly Virgin, can’t he?  Playing tough

RBA enforcer and assistant governor Guy Debelle lived up to his tough-guy reputation at the FX Week Australia Conference on Thursday, where he laid down the law to the foreign exchange industry.

Debelle was part of the working group that  put together a report last year on forex benchmarks to “reduce the scope for manipulation” and he warned the market to embrace these reforms, or else.

“There is a strong expectation that these recommendations will be implemented to deliver an improvement in the execution of foreign exchange transactions referencing FX benchmarks and the integrity of the benchmarks themselves,” he said.

“If these recommendations are not implemented, then the likelihood of a regulatory response will increase,” a menacing Debelle said.

As a sign of how seriously he is taking the matter, Debelle, who has played rhythm guitarist and singer for the RBA’s in-house band, The GFC, did not even make room in the speech for one of his favourite bands – Australia’s seminal punk group The Saints.

He famously referenced the The Saints’ song Know Your Product at a securitisation forum in 2011, but he wasn’t offering FX attendees any punk poetry with lines like: “In our preliminary report, the group had sought market feedback on the development of a central netting utility to maximise netting opportunities and reduce the need for customers to provide orders in advance of the fix to dealers.” Test of clout

The NSW Liberal Party has chosen Valentine’s Day to stage the preselection for the ultra-safe seat of Ku-ring-gai, held by wine-loving former premier Barry O’Farrell.

It could provide a good test for the clout billionairess Gina Rinehart, with her media adviser and former radio host Jason Morrison among the contenders this Saturday.

Morrison was playing his cards tight when contacted by CBD: “It’s been a busy week for me with Hancock Prospecting,” he emphasised.

Nothing wrong with a solid Plan B, huh.

If successful, it’s safe to say he won’t be missed by Rinehart’s children, John Hancock and Bianca Rinehart, who have battled their mother, and Morrison’s spin, in their legal battle for control of their inheritance.

They nicknamed him GP – Gina’s Puppy – because he got rewarded for spinning the media against them in the court case. Building stake

The plot thickens at Onthehouse, with its latest corporate activist, Ezidebit founder Michael Dempsey, building his stake in the real estate data group to 19.2 per cent this week.

It should help the cause if he actually gets around to launching another attempt at spilling the board, which only recently added the last round of activists who were baying at the gates.

This included Sandon Capital’s Gabriel Radzyminski and Gannett Capital’s Glenn Poswell, who is in league with Justin Liberman, of the billionaire Liberman family.

Pity all the activism has not helped the share price, which is barely more than half what investors paid in its 2011 IPO.

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